Can the U.S. Congress address major challenges? Can Congress govern? Questions like these keep getting asked. This article addresses them by consulting the record since 1789. Given the separation-of-powers structure of the American system, such questions cannot be addressed directly. They need to be deconstructed. The presidency needs to enter the discussion, too. Also, what is a major challenge? To identify such challenges, and to supply a way of seeing how and in what respects Congress, as well as in a background frame the U.S. system more broadly, has performed, I draw on comparative analysis. How has the United States participated in thirteen major “impulses” that have invested a comparable set of nations at various times since the late eighteenth century? These challenges range from launching a new nation through building a welfare state through dealing with climate change and debt/deficit problems today.
In partnership with state Democratic parties and the Obama campaign, the authors surveyed staffers from nearly 200 electoral campaigns in 2012, asking about the expected vote share in their races. Political operatives’ perceptions of closeness can affect how they campaign and represent citizens, but their perceptions may be wildly inaccurate: campaigns may irrationally fear close contests or be unrealistically optimistic. Findings indicate that political operatives are more optimistic than fearful, and that incumbent and higher-office campaigns are more accurate at assessing their chances. While the public may be better served by politicians fearing defeat, campaigns are typically staffed by workers who are over-confident, which may limit the purported benefits of electoral competition.
Political scientists have studied why so few women run for office in the United States, but explanations concerning the challenge of balancing work and life have received little empirical support. I present two forms of data to show how expectations about work-life balance affect the supply of potential women politicians. The common thread in these analyses is that time spent traveling to and from work is particularly burdensome for those who spend time caring for children. Because women do a majority of the child care and housework, commuting is particularly burdensome to women. Analyzing a novel data set, I find that women are less likely to run for state legislative office in districts further from state capitals. I validate these results with an original survey experiment run on undergraduates in the midst of choosing their own careers. I find that female students weigh proximity to home twice as heavily as male students do in a hypothetical decision of whether to run for higher office. These results suggest that equal representation of women in government would require men and women to share household responsibilities more equally.
We argue that politicians systematically discount the opinions of constituents with whom they disagree and that this “disagreement discounting” is a contributing factor to ideological incongruence. A pair of survey experiments where state and local politicians are the subjects of interest show that public officials rationalize this behavior by assuming that constituents with opposing views are less informed about the issue. This finding applies both to well-established issues that divide the parties as well as to nonpartisan ones. Further, it cannot be explained by politicians’ desires to favor the opinions of either copartisans or likely voters. A third survey experiment using a sample of voters shows that the bias is exacerbated by an activity central to representative governance—taking and explaining one's policy positions. This suggests that the job of being a representative exacerbates this bias.
Medicare was born of interest group politics. The hostility of the American Medical Association (AMA)—the fiercest lobby in Washington from the 1930s to the 1960s—convinced advocates of public health insurance to start with the most vulnerable and difficult-to-insure segment of the population, the elderly. It also convinced Medicare’s advocates and early administrators to foreswear serious instruments for cost control that were in use in other rich democracies, such as fee schedules and restrictions on capital expenditures.
We introduce experimental research design to the study of policy diffusion in order to better understand how political ideology affects policymakers’ willingness to learn from one another's experiences. Our two experiments–embedded in national surveys of U.S. municipal officials–expose local policymakers to vignettes describing the zoning and home foreclosure policies of other cities, offering opportunities to learn more. We find that: (1) policymakers who are ideologically predisposed against the described policy are relatively unwilling to learn from others, but (2) such ideological biases can be overcome with an emphasis on the policy's success or on its adoption by co-partisans in other communities. We also find a similar partisan-based bias among traditional ideological supporters, who are less willing to learn from those in the opposing party. The experimental approach offered here provides numerous new opportunities for scholars of policy diffusion.
How can we assess relative bargaining power within the Supreme Court? Justices cast two votes in every case, one during the initial conference and one on the final merits of the case. Between these two votes, a justice is assigned to draft the majority opinion. We argue that vote switching can be used to detect the power of opinion authors over opinion content. Bargaining models make different predictions for opinion content and therefore for when other justices in the initial majority should be more or less likely to defect from initial positions. We derive hypotheses for how opinion authorship should affect vote switching and find that authorship has striking effects on switching. Authors thus have disproportionate influence and by extension so do chief justices, who make most assignments. This evidence is compatible with only the “author influence” class of bargaining models, with particular support for one model within this class.